Electricity From Renewable Sources



I had chosen to write on the above topic even when I was writing for the April 2014 issue “Chaotic Churning: What is ahead?”  In the two decadal horizon electricity from the renewable energy will become important.  But that will be so only when we solve the current day problems of poor and erratic electricity  to people, industry and agriculture.

If one looks at the website Open Governance India 2014 (author Balaji Subbaraman) under the section India Regional Electricity Statistics, India is still far behind in terms of reaching electricity to all its citizens.  Access to electricity in terms of percentage of people let us see some highlights: 

Access To Electricity In Developing Countries As Percentage Of Population

First important step to remove poverty to a person or a family in the modern world, is to have a good electricity supply for them. It is needed to pump water. It is needed to provide access to modern knowledge tools starting from TV to computers. It is essential to have a modern competitive industry for a micro-or small industry. It is needed to increase agricultural productivity or artisanal productivity. I can list many more.

The above given 75.3 percent coverage of the people in India hides another important information!

If we look at the rich source of information available in Wikipedia under the title Electricity sector in India (we use lots of quotations and information from this), about 800 million Indians still use traditional fuels (fire wood, agriculture waste and biomass cakes) for cooking and general heating needs. Particulate and other pollution from these are the reason for death of about 300,000 to 400,000 people in India annually.

Note this important statistics: Some 400 million Indians lose electricity access during the black out (amongst these 75.3% who have access!!). While 80% of the Indian villages have at least one electricity line, just 52.5% of rural households have access to electricity! In urban areas it is better; it 95.3%. No wonder rural people want to come to urban areas, even to live in a terrible slum!

Also even where electricity access is good, the outages are very bad in most States. That is one reason for the economic slow down and loss of jobs!

Amidst this disturbing (if not dismal) state of affairs for one crucial element, ELECTRICITY, for living a modern life, how do I think of decades ahead? That was gnawing me even I was reading up lots of material on Electricity from Renewable Resources to write the July 2014 article.

One intuitive conclusion (and perhaps hope), I had arrived at the April 2014 article was about history being made in a few weeks of chaotic churning’ of April-May 2014 in India alluding the Elections 2014.  Now India can hope for a decade of stability, which is a good enough period to correct most of the ‘sins of the past’ and the gaps due to missed opportunities.  We had written about these in the earlier articles.

The new hope and a massive mandate for stability, give me a confidence to share with the readers an important aspect of the long term future of the world and India, that is to be able to source electricity from renewable resources.  Such a transition is possible only when in the near term we are able to give access to quality electricity to all Indians say within 5 years and thus start increasing their income levels (India’s GDP will grow fast with such an access and other focused policies for agriculture, manufacturing, etc...)  Then the population will be prosperous enough to switch over from the ‘cheap’ electricity with the fossil fuel technologies.


Even the well meaning and well informed activists for renewable sources get carried away by its prospects so much so that they all lobby against coal. (Also intuitively the blackness of the coal, gives a mental repulsion to many middle class upward moving persons!) That is the reason India has a serious electric power crisis all over India and also slow down of various sectors.

Let us look at some statistics from the India. Regional Electricity Statistics quoted before (Numbers are percentage of total)

Electricity Sources India

Steam is the bulk and most steady supply; it is mostly of coal and other petroleum fuels.  But (ref: wikipedia), India is not producing enough fuel / coal to feed its power plants. Some plants do not have reserve coal supplies to last a day of operations!  The monopoly govt owned Coal India had been resisting modernization. I am aware it since my working with TIFAC ( Technology Information Forecasting and Assessment Council ) since 1988 which was advocating clean coal technologies. In addition the current environmental awareness level of people leads to resistance of miners intrusion into forest lands (where many of Indian coal reserves are there!). Also compared to average emission levels of the plants in European Union (EU) 27 countries India’s thermal plant emissions emit 50% to 120% more of CO2 per kwh (kilo watt hour) of electricity produced. Thus, in the short term there is lot that needs to be done in the coal and other thermal plant fuel to ensure that the bulk of electricity to India is delivered.  Any slow down or dithering on that front would be detrimental to India’s (and Indians’)economic and social progress.

While we can pursue the nuclear route, it has lost out due to its slow progress over the past several decades and it is unlikely that its share will be any significant. In fact renewable energy electricity may become more than the nuclear share!

Hydro power also seems to have saturated due to a variety of slow actions in the past.  Now the main focus may be on improving its down time and make it a steady power. If major river linking projects come up in future (unlikely as can be seen now due to technical, environmental and social complexities) hydro power share may go up.


It is not enough to look at installed capacities of the sources of electricity, and generation of electricity alone.  The final ‘proof of the pudding’ is how the generated electricity reaches the ultimate consumers.

Let us look at the data as given in the India Regional Statistics (2008) in Giga Watt Hour (GWh)

Generated Power 677,094 GWh
Consumption 501,977 GWh
Loss in Transmission 187,513 GWh

We are not complicating this information by further (important considerations) of available base load and available peak load.  The data is available in the wikipedia source quoted earlier.  As given in that report, “The gap between availability and demand is the shortage which India is suffering”.  Of course “this shortage as in these statistics ignores the effects of waiting list of users in rural urban, and industrial customers”.  “It also ignores the demand gap from India’s unreliable electricity supply. This unrealiability and gaps in transmission are not uniform all over India. Some States in India have overcome these difficulties through proper policies, governance, correct implementations and continual monitoring. But many other States suffer.

The fact that India and Indians are electricity starved has not become a political issue yet. It is all around the decades-old issues of ‘food-starvation’, and ‘doles’. Hopefully the new government with a massive mandate for a new mind set will solve these problems, which are easy to solve, given the political and administrative will.

As given in the wikipedia “Average transmission, distribution and consumer level losses exceeding 30% which includes auxiliary power consumption of thermal power stations, fictitious electricity generation by wind generation and independent power producers (IPP’s) etc.”

So India’s power ‘losses’ are also due to fictitious generation statistics, a clear indication of corruption in governance. Therefore the solutions are not merely scientific and technical.

But India needs to bring down the technical power losses through better technology indication. The ‘fictitious’ accounting can also be taken care of through tamper proof metering and severe punishment to those who ‘cheat’ and are cheating.


As we have discussed before, India from now on (immediate) to  coming several years, have to concentrate on conventional thermal energy sources, coal being the dominate, gas being the next best to help meeting the peak load demands. However, coal use need not be in the same old environment unfriendly and non-clean mode. Coal mining also needs lots of safety systems.

Though India has been and is being rocked by coal-scams, one cannot depend on the monopoly of the inefficient and monolithic public sector Coal India! Private and foreign investors are required to bring new, clean, safe and competitive technologies.

Let us remember the current statistics (Wikipedia): “the coal fired plants account for 59% India’s installed electricity capacity compared to south Africa’s 92% and China’s 77% and Australia’s 76%.”  In the developed nations where coal is lesser, it is the nuclear power electricity that takes giant share (example France, Japan even USA), we noted that India is unlikely to pick up nuclear.  Hence coal based electricity is a must and let us all support it.

Remember the earlier statistics about Hydro, Gas and Renewable. Therefore, whatever we discuss, hope for  the renewables should be seen in this context.

At this juncture, we would like to draw the attention of our readers to an excellent report by the National Academy of Science (NAS) of USA titled “Electricity from Renewable Resources:  Status, Prospects and Impediments”.  It can be down loaded from website for nominal charge or free. Naturally the report is in the context of USA and fully relevant to it.  But others can learn from it.  In this report, renewable energy excludes hydro power, as it is conventional and known.  It concentrates on solar, wind, biomass, geothermal etc...

The report addresses in detail the resource base, renewable technologies, economics, environmental impacts, deployment, scale of deployment and the integration of renewable electricity. It also discusses the future prospects of renewable energies and the critical unknowns. We do not discuss all of these in the Indian context; I have not been able to see such an holistic and yet in depth document in the Indian context. It will be good if some institutions and researchers in India first attempt such a report (without trying to be a champion for one or other technologies!).

The major findings of the report:

“For the time period from the present to 2020, there are no current technological constraints for wind, solar photo voltaic and concentrating solar power, conventional geothermal, and bio power technologies to accelerate deployment. The primary current barriers are the cost-competitiveness of the existing technologies relative to most other sources of electricity (with no costs assigned to carbon emissions or other currently unpriced externalities), the lack of sufficient transmission capacity to move electricity generated from renewable resources to distant demand centers, and the lack of sustained policies. Expanded research and development (R&D) is needed to realize continued improvements and further cost reductions for these technologies.

It is reasonable to envision that, collectively, non-hydro power renewable electricity could begin to provide a material contribution (i.e., reaching a level of 10 percent or more, with trends toward continued growth) to the nation's electricity generation in the period up to 2020 with such accelerated deployment.

“In the period from 2020 to 2035, it is reasonable to envision that continued and even further accelerated deployment could potentially result in non hydroelectric renewables providing, collectively, 20 percent or more of domestic electricity generation by 2035.”  

“In the third time frame, beyond 2035, continued development of renewable electricity technologies could potentially provide lower costs and result in further increases in the percentage of renewable electricity generated from renewable resources. However, achieving a predominant (i.e., >50 percent) level of renewable electricity penetration will require new scientific advances (e.g., in solar photo voltaics, other renewable electricity technologies, and storage technologies) and dramatic changes in how we generate, transmit, and use electricity”.

The report lists a number of areas in which scientific advances need to be focussed.

We have quoted the above in extenso because, USA which is a scientific and technological giant in renewable electricity technology (with a large share of patents in the world) is only able to take such optimistic targets. Therefore in India where we are yet laggards and followers, we need to be cautious in goal-setting for renewable electricity use in India. One cannot gloss over cost-inefficiencies by subsidies.

Again a word of caution: one should not get carried away by the statistics of installed capacities. One should look at the generated power and delivery.   Typically wind power electricity will be 30% or lower of the installed capacity. (See the overview statistics given in the earlier part of this article). This is because wind power is not available 24x7. So with solar power etc...


From the Wikipedia data, we note that as on 31st January 2014, India had an installed capacity of about 31.15 GW (Giga Watts) of renewable technologies based electricity. Most of them is in grid connected power.

Technology Installed capacity in MW@31January 2014
Wind 20,298.83
Small Hydel Power 3,774.15
Baggage co generation 2,512.88
Solar 2,208-36
Biomass Power and Gasification 1,285.60
Waste to Power 99.08

Off Grid Power are about 973.13 MW, with Baggage cogeneration 517.34 MW / SPV system (above 1 KW) 159.77 MW Biomass gasification (Industrial) 146.40MW / Waste to Power 119.63 MW Biomass gasified / (Rural) 17.63 MW etc...


Wikipedia quoted before gives a comprehensive summary of many new recent initiatives by govt of India as also some vital statistics. We give only a few glimpses.

India’s solar energy potential is one of the highest in the world: an energy of about 5000 trillion KWh is per year is incident on the India’s land mass. Most parts of India receive about 4.7 KWh per square metre per day.

Govt’s Solar Mission is intended to capture some of this immense potential: About 20 GW grid based power, 2GW off-grid solar power and cover 20 million square metres with solar energy collector by 2020. Also India plans utility scale power parks. Some state Govts like Gujarat and Rajasthan have taken major lead in these.

However, solar cell production in India lags behind. Lots of solar panels are imported from abroad, major share being from China due to very low costs also for the long term, it is essential to have most advanced Solar Photo Voltaic (SPV) technologies if renewable energy based electricity has to become sustainable. We briefly address this aspect in a separate section of this article.


India has the fifth largest installed wind power capacity in the world. In 2010, wind electric power was 6% of the India’s installed capacity and 1.6% of the country’s power output. Tamil Nadu accounts for 30% installed capacity, followed by Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka and Rajasthan. The State of Gujarat is estimated to have the maximum gross wind power potential of about 10.6 GW (Ref: Wikipedia).


India is rich in biomass and has a potential of 1688/MW (agro residues and plantations), 5000 MW (biomass co-generation) and 2700 MW (energy recovery from waste).  Biomass power generation as an industry attracts about INR 6 billion (Rs. 600 crores) every year, generating more than 5000 million units of electricity and yearly employment of more than 10 million-man days in rural areas.

GEOTHERMAL ENERGY AND TIDAL ENERGY has scope in a few areas.

Main sources are SPV, Wind and Biomass (and limited small hydels).

India has to concentrate on these.  Biomass and urban wastes are not yet fully tapped. If these are attempted in off-grid mode, there is a scope to cover the 300 million Indians yet totally unreached.  If one can also attempt hybrid systems with some coal wastes etc... (wherever there is a possibility of source in biomass supply). In fact small SPV’s along with biomass generators (with possibility mixing coal) etc... should all be considered for feeding villages, locations in cities where electricity supply is non-existent or weak.

In the Indian context where access to electricity is not there for many millions of our people (about 30%) and where many more suffer from poor supplies even for their agricultural and industrial consumption, the share of renewable source electric power should not be counted as statistics of share. We need to aggressively pursue many de-centralised stand alone (off-grid) renewable electricity supplies even as a transition for next couple of decades.

In the meanwhile we should not be satisfied merely with the low efficiency solar SP and SPV systems being deployed in India.


We therefore will have a quick glance at the reports of the Fraunhofer Institute for Soar energy systems ISE. Fraunhofer ISE (FrISE) makes Annual reports. I have had the pleasure of reading them right from 2011. The latest one is 2013-14. The FrISE approaches the use of solar energy comprehensively and holistically.

They cover energy efficient buildings; silicon photo voltaics; III-V and concentrator photo voltaics; dye, organic and novel solar cells; photovoltaic modules and power plants; solar thermal technology; systems integration and grid – electricity, heat, gas; energy efficient power electronics; zero emission mobility; storage technologies; and energy systems analysis. Each of these titles carry detailed description of achieved successes and activities aimed at addressing the gap areas in order to make SP systems commercially competitive with other traditional sources of energy. These are also covered in the USA-NAS report. The FrISE report gives many technical and scientific details, to help those who want to do more (including the use of FrISE knowledge). I skip most of it as it is available in their website. I give a few quotes which will make the readers understand how focussed they are in defining a R&D problem (unlike what happens in India now).

-   “Around 85% of manufactured solar cells are based on crystalline silicon. The efficiency, price-to-performance ratio, long-term stability and potential for further cost reduction indicate that this peak performer in terrestrial photovoltaies will continue to dominate the market in the future. Our activities mirror the complete value chain for crystalline silicon photovoltaies”………………”for highly efficient solar cells and producing wafers with little kerf loss. We are developing specific equipment………….”

Many details are covered over about 20 pages. While discussing wafer bonded III-V multi junction solar cells (which need to be used more in future), see the quote:

“The higher the efficiency with which we generate this electricity from renewable energy sources, the smaller is the amount of land area and the material that is required…………These special solar cells are used in highly concentrated sunlight……………”

Look at the focus! As solar-cells-derived electricity is used (we have low to medium efficiency SPV panels in India now) not only the silicon is wasted in lower efficiency cells but also the demand for land area will go up.

If renewable-energy-based-electricity has to be used in a major way in future going beyond 20% of the total power generated, the land used will also become a limiting factor, as it is now for hydroelectric power!

Our researches have to be focussed in such a manner in the Indian context. To live with Nature in the modern world, we must use less and less material; less and less land space to get more and more electricity. Let the advocates of renewable energy remember this as well.


There is no escape in the long term for Indian’s and India from using renewable sources based electricity. Whatever India is doing now for renewable-based-electricity is good but all of them will require rapid technological upgradation so that the renewable-energy-based electricity is a competitive. In the meanwhile, coal/gas based power plants are required to take care of most of the electricity needs of a growing India (which is starving for good electricity access!) Let us use in those plants as well with modern clean technologies to make coal / gas / fuel pollution the minimum. Also the mining areas need to be “cleaned up” and made safe.

All of these are possible with existing well tried out technological tools available in the world.

In order to look beyond 20 years or more let us work (right now) with focus on future highly efficient renewable electricity on the lines addressed in USA-NAS report and the Fraunhofer ISE annual reports.

Y S Rajan